Why I Choked
I have been meaning to write this post for over two weeks now. It would have been better if I had been able to write it back on the day, but of course if I had been able to think clearly then, by definition I wouldn't have choked, so there you go. Has it been long enough now for me to think rather than simply be overwhelmed by my emotions? I can still see my opponent's face so clearly when we took off our masks and were signing the bout sheet after she had won. She knew what she had done to me, and I knew what she knew she had done. I still don't know how I am going to live that feeling down.
So let's start by making a list. Why?!!! Why, why, why, why, why???--when I knew what kind of fencer she was, when I had in fact warmed up with her on that very day and so had some more recent information about how she was fencing, when I had just seen her beat someone whom I knew to be a stronger fencer than she (or, at least, than she had been until that day). Well, there is some of it: I thought I knew her. Rule number one in fencing: never underestimate your opponent. But but but--I DIDN'T! I knew these sorts of things can happen. I'd done it myself several times that morning already--beat fencers whom I had never beaten before, albeit in pool bouts, so with significantly less pressure than in a D-E (Direct Elimination--you lose, you're out), but nevertheless in actual competition, not just warming up. And yet, of course, I did underestimate her, otherwise I wouldn't have been nearly so upset at losing to her.
So what happened in the bout? My head was in the wrong place going in, for starters. I fence much better when I am the underdog (I'm more used to it, I suppose--yes, that needs thinking about...), and I very much was not the underdog in our bout. I had placed tied for 6th out of the pools (tied, that is, with my roommate for the tournament, who had taken Gold in the age-group Veterans event that same weekend and whom I had beaten, for the first time ever, in a pool bout that morning--oh, yes, we all know each other!), and my opponent had come out not even in the top 16. In her previous bout she had taken out the woman who had placed there after the pools, and she was battling me to get into the top 8. I HAVE NEVER BEEN IN THE TOP 8 IN COMBINED WOMEN'S FOIL and I wanted to be there, very very badly. Too badly. Not only was I not the underdog, but I was using the bout to prove something to myself about my fencing, which is always a HUGE mistake.
Which is where things got ugly. The bout was close the whole way to my loss--at 8-10, in the last two touches. So how did I let it get tied to 8? And why didn't I get those last two touches instead of her? Excuses, excuses. She rushed me. I hate fencing opponents who just fling themselves at you. There's no game in it, just bullying. At least, I feel bullied, rushed, given no time to think--which was precisely her game and I fell for it. I got worried early on that she was just going to attack--HARD--and that I wouldn't be able to parry her (I missed at least one parry early on, and I think I got confused by one or two of the referee's calls, which rattled me). So I started trying to play her game, rushing her, pushing hard--which I very much do not like. The demons really go after me when I try to fence that way. My friend Ed says it's because I'm too nice, I don't like attacking people, and I don't really. I like setting an action up, moving in at just the right pace, feinting, drawing her attack, parrying, and hitting her--all very elegant, all perfectly timed, no bullying, just wits.
She, on the other hand, was out for blood. And I let her get to me. I choked because I stopped fencing my game and started fencing hers: forcing myself to go after her down the strip, hoping that I could pound my way through her defense, anxious about letting her take the offensive but unwilling to seize it properly myself. I hate her for making me fence that way, ugly and ungainly, all muscle, no wits. I hate her for not playing the game the way I wanted us to play. I hate her because I was not able to dominate her (that is what she knew I knew had happened when we took off our masks), as much because I hate the feeling of having to dominate someone in order to win as I hate the feeling of being dominated. And I hate her because she knew nothing of what she cost me in beating me that way. But mostly, of course, I hate her because...well, because she was able to win when it counted and I wasn't.
The demons had a field day with me that morning, mocking me all the way back to the hotel room for being such a poor loser, overcome with glee at the way in which I had reduced myself to tears. The loudest of the lot is the one I can remember now: "There you go, trying to put yourself forward again. You know you aren't supposed to put yourself forward like that. Nice girls don't put themselves forward. This happened because you put yourself forward." Its message: It's okay if other people win, but not if you do. You aren't supposed to win because that would mean putting yourself forward. I wish I could track that demon down and smash its face in.